With the threat of dropping out of first in the Western Athletic Conference for the first time since league play began Jan. 2, Utah Valley upended Grand Canyon 79-68 Feb. 6 to hold onto the top spot.
Senior Holton Hunsaker put in a season-high 29 points on 8-for-14 shooting and finished with four assists and three rebounds to lead the Wolverines over the Antelopes.
Hunsaker made 4-of-7 3-pointers and senior Keawe Enos improved his WAC-best mark from distance to 51.9 percent by sinking three of his four attempts behind the arc. Enos ranks in the top 10 nationally in the category.
UVU built an 11-point lead before Grand Canyon knotted the game 54-54 with 8:40 remaining. A 3-pointer from junior Mitch Bruneel and a layup by freshman Zach Nelson kickstarted an 8-0 Wolverines run before Hunsaker scored UVU’s next 12 points.
The sequence put the Wolverines on top 71-62 with 1:59 remaining, and no WAC team shoots a better percentage from the free-throw line than UVU, enabling a smooth ride to the finish line.
Dick Hunsaker’s squad currently ranks among the top 25 best teams from the foul line in the country.
Enos and fellow senior Ben Aird ended the night with 13 points apiece, and Bruneel had 11. Junior reserve Brenden Evans had his best night in Wolverine green on the boards, collecting eight in 18 minutes, which was the most by a UVU bench player.
UVU’s conference best scoring defense – holding opponents to 64.5 points per game – stifled the ‘Lopes’ shooters on the perimeter as Grand Canyon was 6-for-19 (31.6 percent) from three.
UVU hasn’t given up 70 points in consecutive games since back-to-back road losses versus Tennessee Tech Nov. 30 and South Dakota Dec. 2.
Killian Larson had 24 points to keep the ‘Lopes in it. Former NBA great Dan Majerle has done a respectable job in his first season as head coach in Phoenix, taking a program new to Division I to second place in the WAC.
For Hunsaker and company, the victory was a nice bounce-back effort after they ran out of gas at New Mexico State for their first blemish to the conference record.
A 72-49 loss was a closer contest than the outcome would indicate, but the Wolverines couldn’t overcome the Aggies 59 percent shooting from the field in the second half, and the reigning WAC champions, who have two players 7-foot-3 or taller and another two measuring at least 6-foot-9, used their length to outrebound UVU 31-20.